This week I’ve noticed the honeymoon with Google+ start to wane ever so slightly. Myself and others who were first enamored with the bright, shiny new social network Google+ have drifted back to check in on Facebook, to see what’s going on back in the “real world,” in a sense.
Google+ has immense potential, but it’s still early in its beta process (Google calls it a “field test”), leaving room for it to falter. Ultimately, its success will depend upon sucking millions of users away from Facebook.
It’s also possible that Google+ and Facebook will eventually settle into their own roles. Perhaps one day Google+ will be the place I go to get things done, while Facebook remains a destination for socializing. Nobody ever said my relationship with social networking had to be monogamous, after all.
Here’s the top nine things I need to see from Google+ before I can be sure it will be my social network of choice in the future.
Integration of other Google services like Calendar and Docs: This is such a no-brainer for Google that I assume it’s already on its way. All the Google eggs need to be put in the Google+ basket. If they do it right, I’ll never visit that plain, vanilla search site, Google.com, ever again, because Google+ will be my starting point for everything I could possibly want to do online. Facebook events are nice, but meshing a more robust product like Google Calendar or a productivity tool like collaboration through Docs with a social network opens up whole new avenues of possibility. And if the integration is done right, keeping it simple and intuitive, Facebook will start to seem like an old play-thing we all grew out of.
Open up the platform, but keep it under control: I’ve come to expect an open platform from just about every service I use so that developers can help expand the possibilities and offer ways to sync up with the other services I use — think simultaneous posting to Twitter and Facebook and Foursquare via apps like Hootsuite — but I’m also getting tired of the chaos and junk that model encourages on places like Facebook. Google+ needs to open up the API (as they surely will), but also give me more ways to filter out the spam, social gaming progress updates and other blather from my experience without degrading it, as Facebook’s current “all or nothing” approach to blocking and ignoring users does.
Make it more efficient: One of my Canadian contacts on Google+ claims that spending an hour in a Google+ “Hangout” video chat used up 720 MB of his bandwidth. That kind of data suck will be a big deterrent for folks with monthly caps, like most Canadians, and me — my home internet connection is via satellite and I’d run through all my monthly data in just 24 hours of continuous “hanging out.” This isn’t just a problem for people with caps, either. Even if you have unlimited data, the amount of people you can potentially hang out with will be limited to others with loose, generous or nonexistent caps.
Make Sparks worth my time: I’m highly skeptical of “interest engines” like what Google is attempting with the Sparks feature of Google+ — it claims to allow you to select a topic of interest and then get the best, most relevant content on the topic. It’s something that’s been tried time and time again, but never quite pulled off because neither algorithms nor curation alone seem to do an adequate job. With Google+, the two might finally work together in a way that pays off, but only if Google can execute it properly.
Social search done right: Google has been trying in vain to integrate social search into its main search product for a while now, but with Google+, they could finally have the tools to do it right. If Google+ becomes bigger than Facebook, dipping into my social circles and past usage history for search insights might begin to become valuable.
Be clear on privacy: It would be easy for Google to lead here where Facebook has faltered. If they make it clear what’s private and what’s public and how to control it — which isn’t yet clear on Google+, by the way — Google wins on privacy.
All the other little things: Google’s done a fair amount of straight up copy and paste with Facebook concepts, but I’m going to want more. Don’t forget birthday reminders, event invitations and all the other little goodies I’ve become accustomed to. Except for poking, you can leave that one where it is.
Don’t Beta test for seven years: Please. Enough said. And when Beta is finally done, Google, make sure it’s for real. Don’t change things every week like this other social network I know.
Help me port over my Facebook world: Finally, if Google really wants me to leave Facebook, they’re going to need to help me pack up my things. Facebook allows the option of extracting all your user data, including friends, in one big data dump. I need to see a tool from Google that helps me parse and import that whole world into Google+ so I can truly feel at home and just “hangout.”